Whether you're in a bone-dry market or a sizzling selling season, if you haven't received any offers on your home you're probably facing the question of whether to take it off the market. A house that goes too long without selling begins to appear "stale" and can actually damage your future chances of a sale.
How long is too long? It's not an exact science, but there are some helpful indicators. In a dry market, a sales period of six months to one year isn't unusual. Look at recent sales reports of similar homes nearby to determine a reasonable selling interval. In a hot seller's market, a house that hasn't sold within one month indicates a problem. In either case, there are several steps you can take before putting up the white flag.
10 tips to improve your selling karma
1. Videotape your house, inside and out, and watch the tape as if you were a prospective buyer. Is the lawn weedy or the garden bare? Is your home uncluttered and spotlessly scrubbed? Sparkling-clean houses sell faster than those that look too lived-in or show an abundance of the owner's personality.
2. Take a second look at your listing price. Visit open houses in your neighborhood. Are similar homes priced lower? Selling prices may have dropped since your first comparative market analysis. In a hot market, if you haven't sold your home within one month, chances are good that you've overpriced it. If you do lower your asking price, consider a figure slightly below those of other comparable homes if you are interested in a speedy sale.
3. Do whatever it takes to be away from your home during showings and open houses. The presence of sellers makes it difficult for prospective buyers to take their time or talk openly with their partner and agent. Leave some treats out to make potential buyers more comfortable: beverages, nuts, cookies -- anything that won't lose freshness or be too messy.
4. Ask your listing agent to talk to buyer agents in his or her firm who have shown your home. The feedback from their clients can guide you in making home repairs, toning down your décor, making landscaping improvements and the like.
5. Hold an open house on a weeknight. Competition is lower, and you'll attract the interest of buyers who can't make weekend appointments because of other commitments.
6. Take out some extra online ads or print ads, even if your agent is doing a good job with promotions. Look for out-of-the-ordinary places to advertise, such as trade magazines, company newsletters and other alternative resources. You can even offer perks to buyers, such as a cash bonus or a season ski pass.
7. Neutralize your color scheme. Most buyers prefer pale, neutral colors that make it easier to imagine a new home as their own. Houses with white exteriors are the highest sellers; for interiors, try whites, off-whites or pale grays.
8. If you've had offers but you considered them too "lowball," try readjusting your sights. Determine the lowest price you find acceptable, and consider anything more as icing on the cake. In a longstanding dry market you may even have to sell at a loss, so it's important to take every offer seriously. You don't want to alienate a potential buyer who has solid financing because you've set your sights unrealistically high.
9. Is your listing agent giving your house adequate attention? If not, start by having a candid talk. If there's no change, discuss the problem with the firm's broker. As a last resort, wait until your listing agreement expires and find an agent with a proven track record in your area. On the other hand, if you have a fabulous agent but the market is underwater, consider offering an increased commission or a bonus for your listing agent as extra incentive. If you do sweeten the pot for your agent, amend your listing contract to reflect the change, and be sure it's added to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) book -- buyer agents will also be inspired to give your house extra attention.
10. Relist your house to give it a kick-start. When it was listed on the MLS, it was assigned a number reflecting the date and year of the listing. By now it may appear outdated to buyer agents; relisting will provide you with a new number. Check into the policies of your local MLS: You may need to make a change to qualify for relisting, such as temporarily taking your home off the market, adjusting its price or changing listing agents or firms.
If you've tried the tips above, you're confident that your asking price is competitive, you have an ace agent and you're still not getting any action, it's probably time to take your house off the market. Here are some ways to make the most of it:
Choose your selling season. If you can afford to do so, relist during a more dependable selling season. After warming up in late winter, the market typically starts to peak from the ides of April (yep, tax season makes a difference) until June, when longer days and splashes of garden color make homes look their best. In summer, the market slows to a crawl, followed by a second peak from September to Thanksgiving. From then until January, the market tends to be as cold as a Midwestern winter, but it can also be advantageous to list while the competition is sleeping. Research the trends in your area: If you live near a winter resort, for example, winter may be the savviest time to sell.
If you're a senior, consider a reverse mortgage. Designed to help seniors who have more home equity than they do cash, a reverse mortgage is a loan against your home. The money is disbursed as either a single payment or a monthly sum, and the loan comes due (with interest, of course) only when the house is sold or upon the death of the owner.
Rent out your home until the market bounces back. If you must leave your home because of a job transfer or other extenuating circumstance, renting is an excellent option as you wait for the market to regain some heat. If you don't have the time or the talent it takes to be a good landlord, contact a reputable company that specializes in screening applicants and managing properties.